Friday, April 22, 2016

Wheat research lacks focus

Stephen Morgan Jones, a research scientist who has retired from the federal agriculture department, says wheat research lacks focus and funding.

Too many funders – provinces and farm organizations – are selecting projects and the result is too many small ones that run off it too many directions.

“The average size of an agronomy project is $60,000 (a year), which is pretty damn small, while the average size of the discovery project is around $300,000,” he told the Canada Global Crops Symposium in Winnipeg recently.

“Perhaps what’s more important is there are no real targets as to what we really want to achieve with that research investment. 

“So, for example, we talk about increasing wheat yield, but do we really have any idea of where we want to get to over the next five to 15 years?

“I don’t think we have that and in not having that we really have really very little to measure against as to whether we are being successful or not,” he is quoted by Manitoba Cooperator.

Morgan Jones was director general of the Prairie/Boreal Plain Ecozone Science when he retired in 2013 from Agriculture and Agri-Canada. Now he owns Amaethon, a consulting business, in Lethbridge, Alta.

He said wheat research would benefit from greater co-operation among national and provincial funders.

For example, Saskatchewan and Alberta run separate provincial funding programs ‘and give grants to fairly large numbers of people and as a result of that we have this small funding” per project, he said.

One exception is the high priority to find a way to eliminate the toxins that arise from fusarium mould.

Managing agriculture research has always been a huge challenge, but the track record shows that it worked better when the federal agriculture department's research branch was clearly in the lead and was well funded.

One flaw from the past was split jurisdiction with the feds doing the research, but the provinces insisting that they do the extension. It resulted in foolish friction and turf wars that did nothing to help farmers.

More recently, one of the big challenges is patents that make it difficult for researchers to build on each others' work and bring the results to market.